Fun has been on our minds lately. Why? Because, for some people, “fun” is a loaded word. For others it is an extrinsic motivation. And for some, it is an intrinsic motivation.
Let’s pick this apart.
In our surveys, we often ask respondents why they visit museums, and one of the potential answers is that museums are “fun.” This, on the surface, seemed pretty innocuous, as it was one of several choices. But to some respondents, it is a lightning rod, and we see comments like these:
- “I also worry about the use of the word 'fun'; I would think that enjoyable, pleasant, worthwhile, etc. would be better evaluators of the experience of visitors to museums.”
- “[It’s] as if you're surveying for a theme park . . . [but] not at the price of dumbing down to merely being ‘a fun experience,’ or however you put it, above all else.”
That is, for a certain segment of regular museum goers, “fun” is simply not a word they consider using to describe museum experiences, as “fun” implies dumbing down, simplification, hands-on activities, and even noise. Typically, almost all of these respondents are over the age of 50.
When it comes to younger respondents, “fun” is a word that they often use to describe museum experiences, and it is a very positive term.
For parents, “fun” is an evaluative term used to describe the types of experiences they seek out for their children. That is, museums are “fun” for children because they have cool stuff, hands-on activities, etc. Or they believe that museums make learning “fun,” therefore museums are “fun.” For these parents, “fun” is a primarily extrinsic motivation, projected onto the experience that children have at the museum, and not necessarily reflecting the experience that the parents have themselves. (Though some parents do clearly have as much “fun” as their children.)
But the use of the word “fun” to describe museum visits is not restricted to parents. When we examine respondents who are not parents of minor children, we find that “fun” may be an indicator of a significant generational language shift. Younger adults are much more likely to think of museums as “fun” than older adults. Additionally, young adults in their 20s without children are the most likely segment of all to think of museums as “fun,” even beating out parents.
For childless museum-going adults in their 20s (as well as childless adults in their 30s and 40s), “fun” is an intrinsic motivation. They are seeking out “fun” experiences for themselves. Museums are a “fun” activity, therefore they go to museums for “fun.”
This is a trend we are delighted to see, as “fun,” for most people, has very positive associations with it. Museums are, overall, "fun," and we hope that increasing numbers of people view them as “fun” experiences for themselves and for others, regardless of age.
(O.K. I have to insert a caveat here. Sometimes I am with the sticks-in-the-mud who think museums shouldn’t be fun. But note that I said sometimes. Some topics that museums share are hugely important, but are not necessarily fun to explore. For instance, I do not think the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is “fun,” but I do find it intellectually stimulating, emotionally moving, and extremely powerful, all of which are positive outcomes. So there are times when “fun” is not necessarily what museums should be going for. But excepting certain serious and important topics, fun in museums is important. - SW)
What do you think? Do you have “fun” in museums? Is “fun” an appropriate motivation for visitors? Can we design for “fun” without sacrificing content? We'd love to hear what you think. To share, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)